Foraging isn’t something I get to do very much in Los Angeles. I’ll occasionally notice watercress growing in a stream in the San Gabriel mountains or miner’s lettuce along the side of a trail, but it’s not like I’m going hunting for chanterelles in Griffith Park. There are no blueberry patches in Topanga Canyon (there are wild prickly cucumbers but these are not readily edible). The bivalves that can be found on certain L.A. beaches are lone survivors of perpetual urban runoff; they should be left alone.
So when a carton of pale orange berries caught my eye at the farmer’s market, I felt something like a forager’s high. “Salmonberries,” I was told. “Salmonberries?” I asked. With just a sliver of a smile, this sly fox shook his head and waited for my reaction. I could tell he was an old hand at this dialogue.
In 31 years, I’d neither encountered nor heard of salmonberries. I suspected that they were a newfangled concoction of the agricultural elite, a new way to take advantage of people’s willingness to pay exorbitantly for a handful of pretty berries. Thankfully I was wrong. For the fine people (and bears) of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, the salmonberry is found in the wild. Accordingly, it is prized. Asking 5 dollars for these rare gems – with a most delicate floral sweetness, that naïve color, and only a faint memory of its raspy cousin – these are worth every penny.
for about 6 servings:
8 sheets of phyllo dough
about ½ cup of unsalted butter, melted
about ½ cup of granulated sugar
1 pint of salmonberries (or raspberries)
1 pint of heavy whipping cream, very cold
6-8 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon fine vanilla extract
*True Napoleons (mille-feuilles) have pastry cream and fondant. In order to not overpower the salmonberries, I substituted with whipped cream.
Heat oven to 375. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Stack the phyllo sheets on a working surface. Working with one sheet at a time, brush one side of the dough with melted butter and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Layer another sheet of phyllo over it, and repeat with the butter and sugar. Do this until all of the sheets are stacked. Gently press the phyllo sheets together. Use a knife or round cookie cutter to make 12 squares or rounds. Bake until the phyllo is golden about 10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.
Meanwhile whip the heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla together until stiff peaks form, about 7-8 minutes by hand.
To assemble, dust the phyllo layers with confectioner’s sugar. Spoon some of the whipping cream onto 6 of the phyllo layers, then place 6-7 salmonberries on top of the cream. Add a dollop of cream in the center over the salmonberries, then add another phyllo layer. Top again with cream and salmonberries. Serve immediately.